In a swimming pool filled with Camas High School boys, Nathan Milojevic and Geer McGee are standing tall for Washougal.
“We’re the only ones who get to say ‘go Washougal,” McGee said. “We yell it as loud as we can.”
The North County co-op program brings swimmers from Camas, Washougal, Hockinson, Prairie, Battle Ground and Woodland high schools together at LaCamas Swim & Sport. It has become a platform where Panthers and Papermakers can train together and cheer each other on during the meets.
“It’s like a whole new sport and something completely different to do for our school,” Milojevic said. “A lot of my friends and my teachers like it, but probably only half of the school knows about it.”
Milojevic, a senior, was the first Washougal boy to join the program two years ago.
“The first year was pretty intimidating. I felt like the new kid at school.” Milojevic said. “These guys got to know me, and we became friends. We’re like one big family of swimmers from all these different schools. It’s a pretty good expansion from just our small town.”
Last season, Milojevic convinced his older brother Chris to come out for swimming. Chris brought a friend of his along to give the Panthers their first threesome. It was only for one year, because Chris and his friend were seniors.
McGee, a junior, is Milojevic’s latest project. The two became good friends on the cross country team this fall.
“I want to influence more people from our school to come out and swim, and make a name for Washougal,” Milojevic said. “I would love to have a relay team together so that we could get the whole experience of a meet. Four people is all it takes to form a relay. We only need two more.”
Both Panthers are using the combination of swimming strokes and kicks as a springboard into track and field.
“Without swimming, I wouldn’t be in the shape I’m in right now,” Milojevic said. “It works my shoulders and my back muscles, which is what I need for pole vaulting. It’s also good exercise on top of that. This sport can benefit you for your whole life.”
“Give it a try. You might surprise yourself,” McGee said. “When you first get into the water, it’s freezing and you hate it. But once you get warmed up a bit, it gets easier. You just keep swimming and building on that momentum, and you get better.”
Milojevic and McGee are defining trends for future Washougal swimmers to follow. Assistant coach Leslie Dahlen is impressed with their dedication to their newfound sport.
“Geer has gone from a 100 percent non-swimmer to being a great competitor. He has such a great disposition, and he puts his heart into it 100 percent,” Dahlen said. “Nathan is a natural athlete, but swimming is not his number-one sport. He’s made incredible leaps and bounds from his first year to his senior year.”
Last season, Milojevic placed at state in the 50-meter freestyle and the 100 backstroke. Head coach Mike Bemis hopes this is the year Milojevic gets to go to state for the first time, and represent Washougal on the grandest stage.
“It’s a large step to get to districts, and it’s an even larger step to make it to state,” Bemis said. “Not many kids who just come out for the high school season make it to state, and yet Nathan is knocking on that door. He’s doing a tremendous job.”
Bemis said McGee is getting a handle on the freestyle, backstroke and the breaststroke. Only time and effort will determine how far he can go.
“Geer is learning pretty quickly. I think he has the potential to make districts in his first season,” Bemis said. “That’s the first step for all of our high school swimmers. You have to make it to districts before you can make it to state.”